Its always a sign you're getting over-involved in something when you break out the graph paper.
This is a record of what happened to my Amazon rank since I mentioned the book on the 10th and Adrian built the ranktracker into twitter. (It looks like, to start with, the blog mentions has elevated it from the millions into the hundred thousands.)
I think it's all fairly self-explanatory, if you can be bothered with it. The tracker reports every three hours, but I've only graphed one per day. (Noting on the right if I managed a higher score at any point during the day.) You'll see I ordered the twenty books on the 20th. Seven were dispatched on the 24th (which are now on their way to some people) and thirteen were dispatched today.
All I think I can learn from this is that mentioning the book on the blog seems as, if not more, effective, as ordering and paying for twenty of the blighters.
And, if I've mislogged anything, got my scales wrong, or committed some crime against statistics or information design I can only apologise. It's late and I'm old.
I've been reading Alex Ross in The New Yorker for ages. And his blog, while he's been writing the book. So I was very excited when this finally arrived from Amazon. And it's brilliant. Funny, erudite, readable. I've dabbled with 20th century music before but this really made me want to dive in. And it's not just the writing about music, it's the cultural history that gets told around it. Fantastic stuff. I dog-eared far more pages than I could transcribe here, so these are the ones that might be interesting to you beyond the world of music.
Page 36 Quoting Thomas Mann, At the Prophet’s, 1904:
"Strange regions there are, strange minds, strange realms of the spirit, lofty and spare. At the edge of large cities, where street lamps are scarce and policeman walk by twos, are houses where you mount til you can mount no further, up and up into attics under the roof, where pale young geniuses, criminals of the dream, sit with folded arms and brood; up into cheap studios with symbolic decorations, where solitary and rebellious artists, inwardly consumed, hungry and proud, wrestle in a fog of cigarette smoke with devastatingly ultimate ideals. Here is the end: ice, chastity, null. Here is valid no compromise, no concession, no half-way, no consideration of values. Here the air is so rarefied that the mirages of life no longer exist. Here reign defiance and iron consistency, the ego supreme amid despair; here freedom, madness and death hold sway."
Quite a lot of The Rest Is Noise reminded me that many of the divisions and movements in culture and the arts are timeless. Mann could be describing Hoxton. Or Morrissey's Manchester. Or many creative departments. You see something similar here:
The conductor Reinbert de Leeuw has written: “Satie was, in a manner of speaking, starting European musical history all over again.” The same could have been said of Debussy, who in 1901, remarked to his colleague Paul Dukas that too many modern works had become needlessly complex – ‘They smell of the lamp, not of the sun.” Debussy was describing the motivation for his latest work, the Nocturnes for orchestra, and in particular for the movement “Fetes”…This was the germ of an alternative modernism, one that would reach maturity in the stripped-down, folk-based, jazz-happy, machine-driven music of the twenties. In essence, two avant-gardes were forming side by side. The Parisians were moving into the brightly lit world of daily life. The Viennese went in the opposite direction, illuminating the terrible depths with their holy torches.
Another of those eternal divisions. My version of this was to fall in love with Haircut 100 and completely not see the point of Joy Division.
The impulse to go the brink of nothingness is central to Webern’s aesthetic: if the listener is paying insufficient attention, the shorter movements of his works may pass unnoticed. The joke went around that Webern had introduced the marking pensato: Don’t play the note, only think it.
Cocteau made some notes to Satie in which he described the pseudo-America aesthetic he had in mind (for Parade)
The Titanic – “Nearer My God To Thee” – elevators – the sirens of Boulogne – submarine cables – ship-to-shore cables – Brest – tar – varnish – steamship apparatus – the New York Herald - dynamos – airplanes – short circuits – palatial cinemas – the sheriff’s daughter – Walt Whitman – the silence of stampedes – cowboys with leather and goatskin chaps – the telegraph operator from Los Angeles who marries the detective at the end…
How evocative is that? Brilliant. The list may be the least exploited but most potent literary form. That's a good project; a list of all the great literary lists.
Page 149 (About Porgy & Bess)
In his notebooks Gershwin wrote down some rules that would have sufficed for Berg: “Melodic. Nothing neutral. Utter simplicity. Directness.”
Another good list.
When the Fourth Symphony had its first performance, in April 1911, Finnish audiences were taken aback. “People avoided our eyes, shook their heads,” Aino Sibelius recalled. “Their smiles were embarrassed furtive or ironic. Not many people came backstage to the artists’s room to pay their respects.” This was a Skandalkonzert in Scandinavian style, a riot of silence.
That's just to entertain the Finns out there. Anyone who's worked with Nokia will understand a riot of silence.
Page 341 - Quoting John Cage
“We live in a time I think not of mainstream, but of many streams, or even, if you insist upon a river of time, that we have come to delta, maybe even beyond delta to an ocean which is going back to the skies.” –
“Everything begins in mystique and ends in politics,” wrote the French poet Charles Peguy in 1910. Morton Feldman, the maverick modernist who loved Sibelius, applied this epigram to twentieth-century music, describing how grandiose ideas are made ordinary with the passage of time and become fodder for a power struggle among ideologues and pedants.
Again, both of these are about more than music aren't they? They explain a lot of stuff.
But perhaps the most interesting part of reading The Rest Is Noise is the way it made me think about books, and how books could be better. Almost every page had me wanting to listen to something; putting the book down and scrabbling for emusic or iTunes. Mr Ross uses links on his blogs splendidly to illustrate the book, but I kept wanting to listen while I was reading. Not be switching from one medium to another. This might have solved the problem.
And all this googling also reminded me of the wealth of performances on YouTube; it's an extraordinary place to explore classical and avant-garde music. So I've been working on a little vodpod collection of things I've found while pursuing the music of The Rest Is Noise. It takes in Glenn Gould playing Webern, some extraordinary Debussy on Russian folk instruments, some Ligeti with a visual score, Steve Reich on the South Bank Show and, of course, the Helicopter Quartet, which you have to look at.
Iain tagged me with this 4 x 4 meme thing. Which is exciting. Since I'm always too scared to look at my inbound links I never normally notice when I've been tagged, but this time I was actually in the room when he did it, so there's no escaping.
Four Jobs I've Had
Paper-Round. My paper-round was perhaps the job I've enjoyed most. I loved getting up early. And my parents were kind enough to buy me a Sony Stowaway (later to be known as the Walkman). This meant I could do my paper-round while listening to Pink Floyd and singing along incredibly loud in a not properly broken voice. Must have sounded awful. But these were early Walkman days and we hadn't learned to moderate our public headphone singing yet. And no-one I met on the round knew what a Walkman was. A few of the neighbours thought it was some kind of hearing aid and made their sympathies known to my mother.
Bassist. Sometimes Drummer. Not sure if this counts as a job, but it earned me the most money before I got a proper job. This was in a folky band called Dungeon Ghyll that used to play for barn dances and ceilidh's all over Derbyshire. Mostly for Young Farmers dos. Accordian. Guitar. Fiddle. Bass and Snare Drum. We occasionally rocked.
PhotoLab. I spent one summer working in a photo-developing lab. I was completely unskilled so all I did was cut the negatives up, match them up with the right prints and put them in the envelope. We'd often lost a print here or there so had a spare stock of misc pictures to chuck in the envelope instead. There were only ever two sorts of picture that anyone took - three old ladies on a sofa with a cake and a huge expanse of sky with a tiny, tiny plane right in the middle.
Dealer Account Guy. My first proper job was administering the advertising programme for all the Fiat dealers across the UK. We had to make sure the dealers (who made their own ads) didn't infringe any of Fiat's advertising regulations. I remember when the Fiat Tipo won European Car Of The Year a dealer in the West Midlands managed to run an ad suggesting that the Fiat Typo had won European Car Of The Week.
Four Shows I DVR
I don't DVR shows really. (What does DVR stand for?) I occasionally buy DVDs for plane journeys and I record quite a lot via EyeTV. But if I did, I'd be DVRing:
Sports Night One of the few shows I've got on DVD and sometimes just get out and watch. This is pre-West Wing Aaron Sorkin, much of the same cast but compressed into 30 minute chunks. Incredibly sharp and funny. (Also could be seen as smug and annoying. There's a theme here isn't there?)
Scrapheap Challenge. There should be more engineering on the telly.
Four Places I've Been
I'm not much of a traveler. I've been to lots of places on business but tended not to pay that much attention. Bad I know. But, mostly, as soon as I get somewhere, I want to come home. Before we ever lived in the States, Anne and I used to go on long driving holidays there. All over the place. My four favourite places (apart from Portland) were:
Freeport - our first ever trip to The States. Three weeks driving around New England. And we happened upon Freeport and the LL Bean flagship store. I was obsessed with anything that boasted a 'state of the art pocket system' (still am), so this was a bit of a geekout.
San Luis Obispo - another driving holiday, up the West Coast from LA to Portland before interviewing at w+k, took us to San Luis Obispo. I think this is where we decided we'd like to live in the US sometime. Not sure why really. It was warm enough for sandals, there was a good bookshop and good coffee. That's probably enough. Like to go back here sometime.
Huntsville - we spent a few days here. Brilliant place. Any city with a space shuttle on its crest has got to be good. And it's only a couple of hundred miles from Dollywood, so we had a trip there too. Best day out ever. That whole area - the Smoky Mountains and the Tennessee Valley - is fascinating. I think we started off on the Blue Ridge Parkway and ended up heading into Alabama, I remember how exciting the road was, but the chronology and geography of the holiday is a blur.
Cooperstown - after three weeks being hypnotised by the rhythms and sounds of baseball commentary, all crackly and remote on the AM radio, we had to go and see the Baseball Hall Of Fame. But we really liked Cooperstown itelf. We splashed out on a slightly fancier motel and spent and evening in rocking chairs on the porch. I seem to remember it was next to a lake and I was reading The Curious Case Of Sidd Finch.
Four Music Artists I'm Listening To Now
Well, according to Last.fm my Top Four Artists this week are:
That's mostly because I can never get my iPod to scrobble properly and therefore only reflects the stuff I've been listening to while working. (A whole category of music which has emerged during the last 20 years as more and more workers have huddled over computers with headphones on. It's music that provides a mental sniper's pad but doesn't especially intrude.)
For all of the Bond v Bourne debate, recently refinding this book reminded me that the spy you really want to be is Harry Palmer. Mostly because it's just about imaginable. Palmer spends most of his life in dull meetings, wrapped up in petty red tape and worrying about not being paid enough. It's not a very glamorous life. But it's aspirational and desirable enough. It's all in the opening titles:
It's all there isn't it? The pyjamas, the kitchen, the specs. He starts the day with grinding coffee and checking the racing form in the paper. (And we all know that he shouldn't press his coffee so soon, but we've got to get on with the film haven't we?) He doesn't even seem to bother with a shower, that unhealthy obsession with cleanliness not seeming to have crossed the Atlantic yet.
Palmer wins (and gets the girls) because he knows about food. Bond is a fussy little snob so he carefully specifies what he eats (eggs from French Marans hens, Tiptree marmalade, Norwegian Heather Honey) but it's almost always clubbable comfort food. Nothing with brio. And seemingly nothing he's ever cooked himself. So to be Bond you have to be wealthy, to be Palmer you just have to learn to cook.
Of course Palmer's love of food comes from Mr Deighton himself, who trained as a graphic designer and did these cookstrips for The Observer. (Also featured in Ou Est Le Garlic). And AceJet tells us that Mr Deighton features in The Ipcress File as the hand cracking the egg, because Michael Caine couldn't do it in the impressively single-handed way the script and the seduction demanded.
I've just got back from seeing Shlomo and DJ Yoda at the QEH. Very, very good. But what completely fascinated me was Shlomo's hands. Or hand really, because he's normally got a mic in the other. To start with you think he's just air scratching, miming the DJ sounds he's making. And he is doing some of that. And occasionally doing a bass guitar mime or trumpet or little fader tweak or something. But then you realise he's also dance/miming something for sounds which make sense visually, but don't correspond to any real or virtual instrument. We can understand why the action fits the sound but there's no underlying idea of an actual real world instrument. It's like he's tapped into how instruments should intuitively work, if you didn't have to worry about acoustics or physics. It'd be fantastic to try and build the instrument his hands imply.
Last night, just before I ordered 20 copies of ebcb, my Amazon ranking was 96,026.
It's been steadily falling ever since. It's now 123,215. What does this mean?
Has every other book in the world been selling extraordinarily well? Is the ranking just a random number generator? Do they somehow penalise you for bulk orders? Are they deliberately trying to destroy the morale of authors for some unclear but evil reason? Or is it all just statistical sloshing around at the bottom of the rankings barrel?
I don't know. But I'm not pleased.
UPDATE: Maybe this is a clue. I got this email last night: "We are sorry to report that the following items have been delayed: Russell Davies (Author) "Egg, Bacon, Chips and Beans: 50 Great Cafes and the Stuff That Makes Them Great" [Hardcover] Estimated arrival date: 03/03/08 - 06/03/08". That might explain the rankings disaster. Maybe they're not counted as sales yet. For some reason I have an image in my head now of an Amazon man in a flat cap and a brown warehouse coat sending a boy on a bicycle round to HarperCollins for a parcel of books wrapped up in brown paper and string.
Since Speechfication seems to be working and the BBC iPlayer is such a delight we thought we'd have a crack at Watchification. It's very much early days; most of the posts up there are tests, the copy in the sidebar is the same as the speechification copy and it's not been designed. But you can probably see what the idea of the thing is. And we'd love to hear from anyone who'd like to be a contributor. (Maybe you could email me - russell at russelldavies.com - if you're interested.)
Some things to note: the iPlayer won't work if you're outside the UK. That's not our fault. But we're sorry. iPlayer programmes exire 7 days after they're broadcast so if you see something you like the look of watch it quickly. (We're going to try and make a little timer or something that'll tell you how long before the programme expires, anyone want to help with that?)